Unmasking the female spectator: Sighting feminist strategies in Chopin, Glasgow, and Larsen
Dressler, Mylene Caroline
Minter, David L.
Doctor of Philosophy
The term "female spectator" has, since its first appearance within feminist theoretical formulations, and in particular within feminist psychoanalytic interpretations of film, been the subject of contentious debate. Attempting to answer such questions as, What is a female spectator? Who does she represent? How meaningful is she as a social or textual construction?, feminist theorists of literature and film have sought and constructed a complex syntax of meanings, one which reveals the nomenclature of "female spectatorship" as a site not of looked-for, stable opportunity, but rather of multiple and unpredictable identifications. Drawing on the work of critics including Mary Ann Doane, Tania Modleski, and Teresa de Lauretis, this study seeks to explore that multiplicity through a construct of "masquerade": locating the strategic importance of female spectatorship, not only in its ability to figure female recognitions of gender as performance, but in its capacity to describe the very watching of that recognition, and the larger masks of theory that construct watching itself--and so authorizing feminist tropes of specularization, and a female "gaze" that deconstructs specularization as local, limited, and strategic. To this end, the dissertation is imagined as a series of "unmaskings" or textual re-visions which dramatize and self-consciously narrativize feminist "sights" of critical engagement with works by women which seek to encode female specularity. Chapter 1 offers a Lacanian analysis of The Awakening, an interpretation which is in turn challenged and complicated by the re-vision of Chapter 2, incorporating previously absent demarcations of race, class, and sexuality. Chapter 3 examines Barren Ground as a text which encodes the very watching of female textual production enacted in the first two chapters, and further as a work which expresses female visual authority precisely through such return and redress. Chapter 4, finally, reads the impulse to self-revision as itself open to a second look, offering an analysis of Quicksand which exposes the potentially "mirroring" and enclosed effects of white female spectatorship deployed as self-observation. Yet Larsen also holds out hope for the masks of female watching; masks which, when recognized, may reconstruct women viewers as diverse, distinct, and discerning.